Jan. 31 -- Plans to build a hotel at Orlando Sanford International are the latest sign the airport is trying to fly with Florida's major airports.
"They're starting to play in the -- I hate to say -- the big leagues, but that's really what it is," said William Johnson, executive director of the Florida Airports Council, an association of airport professionals.
"They're starting to have all the amenities all the other international airports in Florida have," he said.
Construction is scheduled to begin this summer on a four- to five-story Best Western hotel on Airport Boulevard, south of the main terminal. The hotel is expected to open by late 2008.
The property also is being prepared for a second, more upscale hotel, though no agreement has been reached with a chain, said Diane Crews, vice president of administration at the airport. Construction crews will lay pavement, landscaping and a road entrance at the opposite end of the 5.7-acre site.
The airport's steady growth created a need for amenities such as a hotel, Crews said. Other current expansions include construction of a five-story, 830-space parking garage.
Having an on-site hotel "creates more of a full-service environment," Johnson said. "I would think, if I was running an airport, having a hotel on the property would make a big difference. It's part of your marketing. . . . That's a very nice benefit for the airport to have."
The Best Western will fill several needs at the airport, which reports growing domestic service but caters to international charters, mostly from England.
Although the number of international passengers declined last year, Crews said the hope is the hotel will appeal to passengers on trans-Atlantic flights who could sleep nearby before heading home.
The hotel also will give the airport a convenient place and more local rooms to put up domestic passengers who encounter unexpected delays, she said. Now, many of those passengers and flight crews stay at places farther away, such as at hotels along Interstate 4. Occasionally, the airport has even had to bus people to Orlando hotels when local ones have been full, Crews said.
Business travelers still account for a small portion of passengers, Crews said, so though the hotel is planned for 3,800 square feet of meeting space, "we really feel like this will meet the need of the leisure traveler."
In the early 1990s, the facility was a general-aviation airport that had virtually no commercial service. Then it became a hub for British charter flights. But the domestic market has been growing because of increased flights from Allegiant Air, currently the airport's only domestic carrier. Other small domestic carriers have come and gone, with some of them shutting down because of financial troubles.
Last year, the airport reported a 13 percent increase in domestic traffic to more than 637,000 passengers compared with 563,931 in 2005. At the same time, international traffic fell 7 percent to 1.01 million passengers, compared with 1.08 million in 2005.
Crews said the international downturn was the result of "cyclical" competition from other markets. She predicted increased business this year from two regularly scheduled carriers -- flyglobespan and Icelandair -- that began service in 2006.
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